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10-04-2012, 20:12   #1
Duggys Housemate
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Literally I am starting a thread on this.

So a lot of people don't like the use of the word literally to mean "figuratively", but they are wrong. Literally is one of those words which changes, or reverses , meaning in context. There are others:dust, to remove, or add dust - (think forensic team or cleaner), sanction ( to allow, or disallow) etc.

In fact to use it "properly" is - to my mind worse, or redundant. I was literally walking down the street can easily be, I was walking down the street. Its of no use there.

Figuratively is not a useful word either, in fact, it is rarely used, and an ugly addition to all figurative language.

It is the East, but Juliet is not figuratively the Sun. Shakespeare's metaphor was figurative, he just didn't have to announce it.

One of the forms of figurative language is hyperbole and all these are equivalently figurative language ( and we can tell in context):

I walked a million miles.
Not a word of a lie, I walked a million miles.
Honestly, I walked a million miles.
Literally, I walked a million miles.


All of the additions in sentence 2-4 are intensifiers of the hyperbole. Literally is used in the opposite of it's standard meaning here, so is honestly, but in hyperbole you intensify the exaggeration by claiming it's truth, and literally is no more out of place than honestly ( meaning dishonestly), or Not a word of a lie ( meaning: this is a lie, or exaggeration ).

You can in all cases use all these words correctly to mean their opposite.

You need to exaggerate hugely, with hyperbole. Honestly I walked 2 miles means you did walk 2 miles, hyperbolic language works when the claims are too great to be honest ( i.e. a million when you walked two, rather than twenty when you walked two, since twenty is possible), and that is what changed the meaning of the words at the start of the sentence.

Last edited by Duggys Housemate; 11-04-2012 at 09:24.
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11-04-2012, 00:27   #2
P. Breathnach
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So a lot of people don't like the use of the word literally to mean "figuratively", but they are wrong....
No, I'm not.

Because the misuse of literally is usually not done for stylistic effect, but because the person using the word hasn't a clue what it means - for example "I was laughing so much I literally wet my pants".
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11-04-2012, 06:58   #3
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Originally Posted by P. Breathnach View Post
No, I'm not.

Because the misuse of literally is usually not done for stylistic effect, but because the person using the word hasn't a clue what it means - for example "I was laughing so much I literally wet my pants".
If you listen closely, they're actually saying 'literarily'.

Probably.
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11-04-2012, 11:27   #4
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In fact to use it "properly" is - to my mind worse, or redundant. I was literally walking down the street can easily be, I was walking down the street. Its of no use there.
It's not useless; literally can be used to avoid ambiguity when saying something that might otherwise be mistaken for a figure of speech: "I head there were problems on your last climbing trip?" "Yes, at one point I was literally hanging on for my life!"
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11-04-2012, 11:57   #5
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No, I'm not.

Because the misuse of literally is usually not done for stylistic effect, but because the person using the word hasn't a clue what it means - for example "I was laughing so much I literally wet my pants".
I don't think you really read my post. Although there is some ambiguity on this one - because you can wet your pants ( in which case you can claim you literally did) - it's still correct as hyperbole if you didn't.

I literally died of laughter is correct, for instance. Or I literally jumped out of my skin.
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11-04-2012, 12:35   #6
P. Breathnach
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I don't think you really read my post....
Yes I did. I just don't agree with you.
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11-04-2012, 12:38   #7
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Yes I did. I just don't agree with you.
We would need a better explanation though, rather than your opinion that some people don't get it, and are using it incorrectly.
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11-04-2012, 12:56   #8
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We would need a better explanation though, rather than your opinion that some people don't get it, and are using it incorrectly.
Did you not read my post?
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11-04-2012, 12:59   #9
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Thanks OP. You literally took the words out of my mouth.

.


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11-04-2012, 13:16   #10
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Did you not read my post?
yes, but you said that some people didn't get it. Then you produced a grammatically correct sentence to illustrate your point, making no reference to my post what so over.

I should say here that literally, used as an intensifier has a long pedigree (Dickens, Eliot and more), and has only fallen out of favour recently. Seems to be a class issue, as working class people use it more.
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11-04-2012, 13:20   #11
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Thanks OP. You literally took the words out of my mouth.

.


.
I hope you don't think that is incorrect?
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11-04-2012, 13:30   #12
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I don't know where to start with the op.

Languauge is confusing enough as it is. There are so many misunderstandings from misuse of language that it's just not funny. And I'm sorry but using straightforward language for irony will get you into a lot of trouble if used in the wrong forum . eg I literally sliced the head off him your honour but I didn't kill him.

I can understand its use somewhat in hyperbole but still sounds wrong. We've all heard the commentator saying about (I forget which player now) that he "literally has no left foot". Now that to me is a clear indication that the commentator had no idea of what literally meant. No question.

If you ask me both words should only be used to to clear up any ambiguity in a sentence.

That's my opinion anyway.
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11-04-2012, 13:30   #13
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yes, but you said that some people didn't get it.
No, I didn't. In particular I never used the word "some"; I suggested that it was usual that people who misused the word hadn't a clue what it means.
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Then you produced a grammatically correct sentence to illustrate your point
The fact that my sentence is grammatically correct is irrelevant: this is a question of correct usage, not of grammar.
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making no reference to my post what so over.
I had already referenced your post, and said that I don't accept your position. What else need I do?
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I should say here that literally, used as an intensifier has a long pedigree (Dickens, Eliot and more), and has only fallen out of favour recently. Seems to be a class issue, as working class people use it more.
A class issue? Wow.
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11-04-2012, 13:35   #14
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Sure it has to be a class issue, hence the pervious commentators football reference.

In all cases of hyperbole, the intensifier means the opposite of what it means in non-hyperbole.

you cannot take the words out of someone's mouth. So all of these are lies, by the standards of pedants.

He honestly took the words out of my mouth.
He really took the words out of my mouth.
He literally took the words out of my mouth.

But thats repeating the original post.
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12-04-2012, 15:20   #15
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I guess it is possible that the word will undergo a shift in meaning due to this new idiom. From a purely linguistic point of view words expressing truth or factuality have often transmuted into intensifying particles for hyperbolic or false statement (this is the origin of very), not just in English but in the other Germanic languages.
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